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Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Time for a publishing rant

Fresh (almost) daily from Julie Barrett


There's a big kerfuffle going on in the romance blogosphere over an e-publisher that may be imploding. Read what one of their authors has to say and then check out the e-mail porportedly sent out by the owner of the e-publisher. Wow, I hope that e-mail is a hoax.

There are a lot of wonderful small presses and some very good e-publishers out there, but stuff (I'll refrain from using a stronger word, at least for the moment) like this gives a black eye to the entire group. If you're looking to get published, or if you want to buy from an e-press or small press, here are some tips.

(First, the big, hairy disclaimers - with biker tattos. This is based on my own experience as a writer and a reader. Your own mileage may vary. And yes, there ARE exceptions to any rule. Don't come whining to me about how you are one of those exceptions. If you are, then I'm happy that it all worked out for you. None of this constiutes legal advice. As I say below, get an agent or an attorney to review your contract.)

  1. Check out the publisher before you buy or submit. How long does it take for them to deliver a book or e-pub? Many small publishers use Print On Demand technology. Ain't nothing wrong with it, but it does mean that they probably can't run to the warehouse (or their distributor can do the same), grab a book, and drop it in the post. Note delivery times. E-pubs should be delivered within one or two business days, depending on the size of the publisher.
  2. What's the buzz about this publisher? Any complaints about slow delivery times, non-payment of royalties, sloppy printing, bad customer service, etc?
  3. What is their editing process like? Some e-publishers famously (or infamously) do not edit. If you have a screaming case of Golden Word Syndrome, that's no problem. The rest of us need editors. I'm not just talking about a quick copyedit. Does the editor have suggestions about how to make your story flow better? Do suggested cuts and additions make sense?
  4. What do you pay to get published? The answer should be "nothing," other than for items like postage and your office supplies.
  5. What do they pay? Yep, smaller presses don't pay like the big boys do, but that doesn't mean they're bad. I know of some wonderful small presses that take care of their authors. Small usually means fewer sales, but as long as they pay on time and there's proper accounting for royalties then there shouldn't be a problem.
  6. What do you have to do in terms of marketing and promotion? Larger publishers have a marketing budget. With smaller publishers you're sometimes required to take on more of the burden. Still you shouldn't be paying to get published. By that I mean if you have to buy and send out review copies and take out ads, then you're doing something your publisher should do. You do promotion. You have a blog, a web site, you may even print up flyers and bookmarks to take around to conventions. You may arrange for signings - but you don't provide the books except in certain circumstances (say, anything outside of a bookstore, in which case your publisher should provide you with a discount and return policy).
  7. Who pays for the copyright? Generally speaking, the publisher does. If they don't, you'll need to take care of it.
  8. What about the contract? If you're not familiar with publishing contracts, find someone who is - preferably an agent or an attorney who specializes in intellectual property matters. Most terms of a contract should be negotiable. This is where having someone in your corner who knows what they heck they're doing can be invaluable. If you can't afford an attorney, look for a Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts group in your state.
  9. Go to a genre convention, or check out some of the large regional conventions online. This is your chance to interract with other authors and get the scoop on good small press and e-publishers. Look at the bios of the program participants. Most will list publishers. Talk to the booksellers in the dealer's room. How do they get their books? What does it take for them to order books from a particular publisher? (The general answer: A decent discount and return policy.) [Please note that there are some genre conventions who limit their program participants to authors published by advance and/or royalty-paying presses. I don't think it's an elitist attitude as much as the fact that they have to draw the line somewhere. That's another rant for another time. Hint: I'm generally on the side on the concoms on this one.]

These are but a few things to look for. As a reader or writer, you need to be concerned that the publisher does a decent job with editing and covers and has good quality control.

And one more time: There ARE exceptions to some of the things I said. But there is no excuse for sloppy editing, improper accounting of sales, slow or non-payment of royalties or bad customer service.

Now, I need to go finish putting our dinner together. Corned beef and cabbage. Yum!

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Filed under: Writing   Publishing         
3/23/2008 5:40:10 PM
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